Representing a unique and proud part of the Yoruba community, it is only fitting that the Eyo Festival be dedicated to the indigenes of Lagos. The indigenes also known as “Isale Eko”, celebrate ‘Eyo’, a cultural and traditional masquerade display, which emerges from the Iga (palace) of the Oba or any of his cabinet members.
The ceremony/festival has overtime garnered fame and thus in modern times also serves as a tourist attraction for people all over the world. There are however, a couple of important facts you should know about the festival.
1. The Eyo Festival Is Held When An Oba Or A Highly Regarded Chief Dies
Back in the days, the Eyo festival is held to escort the soul of a departed Lagos King or Chief and to usher in a new king. Most times, it is done in honour of the demise of an Oba, a Chief, or a notable Lagosian who has contributed immensely to the development of Lagos. The unique feature of this event is its infrequent staging, the Eyo does not hold on an annual basis like other popular Lagos carnivals such as Olowogbowo, Oko-Faji etc. There have been times in the past when for 21 years, the event did not hold, while there has also been years when Eyo was staged, three, four or five times in a single year. These years were 1903, 1906 and 1909 respectively. These days however, the Eyo festival is also held when a new Oba or the new head of an Iga (palace) is being installed, or on demand by a governor or influential indigene for a fee.
2. The Origin Of The Eyo Festival
The word “Eyo” refers to the costumed dancers, also called masquerades that come out during the festival. The origins of this observance are found in the inner workings of the secret societies of Lagos.
The origin of Malaki and Ejilu is a bit confused, some said Benin, some said Ibefun. In the book; ‘The People of Southern Nigeria’ , Eyo is described as “Ijebu Juju” ,but Rev. J. Olumide Lucas in his book ‘The Religion of The Yorubas’ states that the cult of Adamu Orisa is peculiar to the Aworis. Another author claims Eyo was an initiation of Egungun seen at Oyo. It is said that Abudu Karimu Docemo and Bakare Jose went to Oba Falolu at Iga-Idunganran to request for their grand-father’s masquerade, Adimu, from Apena’s people to return it to them.
In considering the subject matter, it is essential to consider, the principal actors or participants of the Adamu Orisa Play and their origin. The Abegede and Ita Ado group belonged to the Benin class of chieftaincy, the Akarigberes. They belonged to the following: Olorogun Igbeaodi, Olorogun Atebo, Olorun Agan. Eyo Orisa Oniko is next to Eyo Orisa Adimu in rank but that Oba Adele, during his reign asked for Okanlabato to assume the second position and it has been like that since then. It was also confirmed that Eyo Okanlaba has no Orisa but ‘Laba (symbolic Bag), which is the property of the reigning Oba. Meanwhile, each “Orisa of Eyo” has traditional functions which it must perform as directed by the Supreme Head of all the Orisas. Laba is the “Police” of the Orisa Adimu administration; They are to ensure and maintain maximum discipline among the Eyo groups.
3. The Festival Is Traditionally Performed On The Lagos Island
Due to it’s history, the festival is traditionally on the Lagos Island. On Eyo Day, the main highway in the heart of the city (from the end of Carter Bridge to Tinubu Square) is closed to traffic, allowing for procession from Idumota to the Iga Idunganran palace. The festival is then culminated at the Tafawa Balewa Square(TBS), where the Eyo will be on parade.
4. Features Of The Eyo Festival
- The Eyo together with friends and family of the Iga(palace) parade from one end of Lagos Island to the other.
- A full week before the festival(always a Sunday), the ‘senior’ eyo group( Adimu) , goes public with a staff. This means the event will take place on the following Saturday.
- The “Orisa Oniko” parades early in the morning on the day of the festival. This is believed to drive away evil spirits from the occasion
- Each of the four other ‘important’ groups (Laba (Red), Oniko (yellow), Ologede (Green) and Agere (Purple)) take their turns to parade in that order from Monday to Thursday.
5. There Are Certain Prohibited Items And Activities During The Festival
During the Eyo festival, certain practices are not permitted amongst people around the festival area. Some things to avoid include:
- Wearing Sandals
- Riding motorcycles and bicycles
- Making the ‘Suku’ (yoruba hairstyle).
- Women are not to tie headties or wear shoes.
- It is a taboo to wear the Eyo costume overnight or wear it to cross a lagoon or river.
6. The Festival Has Become A Major Tourist Attraction For The State
Its popularity stretches beyond the shores of this country, it can be concluded that the Eyo masquerade itself represents Lagos.
7. The Eyo Festival Is Unique To Lagos
Due to its history and tradition, the Eyo festival is only held in Lagos. It is Eko’s creation, it has no parallel anywhere in Yoruba land.
8. Witness The Crème De La Crème Of The Yoruba Society
The final parade in the square is a convergence point for dignitaries in the state and outside the state. Some prominent guests include; The Obas of different palaces, their decorated chiefs, the Lagos state Governor, the Elegushi of Ikateland, and so on.
9. What The Eyo Wears During The Festival
Each Eyo comes out of an Iga (palace) of a ruling family in the morning and heads for the shrine (Agodo). It is robed from head to toe in white flowing cloth. The white flowing costume consists of an ‘agbada’ (the top robe), and the ‘aropale’ (the bottom wrap around). No part of the person carrying the Eyo is expected to be seen. The Eyo also wears an ‘Akete’ a hat that bears the colours and shield of the Iga from which he comes. An Eyo may tie ribbons in his Iga’s colours to the Opambata (palm branch) that he carries. An Iga’s Eyo may have up to 50 to 100 or more members. Each person carrying a robe as Eyo must pay a fee for the privilege. This fee is paid to the Iga – ruling house, whose colours and Akete the Eyo wears.The Adimu is identified by a black, broad-rimmed hat.
10. The Relevance And Significance Of The Festival
The Eyo festival is organized under the auspices of the Yoruba tradition, as well as social organizations or clubs. It is an outlet used to showcase the culture of the Isale Eko people, since it can be organized for special occasions apart from the death of prominent chiefs, elders, or installation of a new Oba. It can also be used to entertain at special state functions or occasions.